Municipal politicians, bureaucrats miss mark on ice storm response

By Robert Washburn

Trees and bushes are covered by ice during major storm over the weekend. Photo by Michele Washburn

Trees and bushes are covered by ice during major storm over the weekend. Photo by Michele Washburn

It appears Cobourg council  gets a massive FAIL when it comes to providing information during the recent ice storm.

Once again, the Burd Report doesn’t miss a trick as it recorded the delayed reaction by politicians and the communications department at town hall. Sarcasm aside, it points out a blatant lack of use of social media to reach out to residents and keep them informed about what was going on. Meanwhile, crews with the roads department, the local hydro and police were trying to deal with the ensuing mayhem created by the storm. Cobourg police did a reasonable job trying to push information to the public across its Twitter account.

From the perspective of expectations, it is not surprising to see the lack of a co-ordinated response by the politicians. This is not a group of tech-savvy people. They still fiddle with their laptops at council meetings. And, they continue to use technology like it is a disease rather than a tool for communicating with constituents.

Thank goodness for information sharing of residents, as multitudes of people used Facebook and Twitter to supply critical information. Local radio stations and some news media provided outstanding updates. Still, the town should not be relying on the informal networks or news media. It has its own mandate to communicate during such an event.

However, the inadequacy of the communications director cannot be excused. This was a lost opportunity to shine, showing how Cobourg has joined the 21st Century. In a case like the ice storm, social media plays a massive role in helping people get information – vital information. Even if it was retweeted from other sources, there should have been a strong presence by the town, while it also gathered information from the public works department, police, hydro. Duplication does not matter. Even in the aftermath, letting people know when the roads are cleared, when power will be restored, where there are warming centres, advice for seniors, etc. Sure, the use of social media during an emergency situation, or something close to it, is likely not written up in a procedure or a plan. But, anyone with any knowledge of current communications must know how these platforms work and have a sufficient sense of civic duty/responsibility to get the messages out and facilitate coherent messages to help residents. This type of communication is not 9 to 5 or five days per week.

The town’s strategic plan included making council and town hall more transparent and open through the hiring of a communications staffer. Everyone was so tickled when the town got its Facebook page and the mayor got his Twitter account. So far, it has been a huge let down. Yes, we get all the happy-go-lucky promotional stuff. The ice storm was a test. It may have not been a full-fledged emergency, but it was serious. And, the town did not come close to making the grade. Somebody needs to answer for this. The Burd Report supplies the proof.

One thought on “Municipal politicians, bureaucrats miss mark on ice storm response

  1. While this is about Cobourg, Port Hope’s reaction during the storm was abysmal. With major power outages, there will nothing from politicians or town staff. Finally, after multiple posts to Facebook and local group pages, information began to slowly trickle out. Again, a complete failure to recognize the power of social media as a critical communications tool, along with all the others. Luckily, an active online community provided information as it was available.

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